Inaugural Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction Ministers Meeting, 14th – 16th September 2022, Nadi, Fiji
OPENING REMARKS FOR HONORABLE MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, NATIONAL SECURITY AND POLICING & RURAL, MARITIME DEVELOPMENT AND DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Heads of Delegation,
Director General of the Pacific Community
Deputy SecretaryGeneral of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Ladies and Gentlemen
Ni sa bula vinaka. I bid you greetings from the Government and people of Fiji and warmly welcome you to our shores. We are so honoured to have you here with us in this corner of the Blue Pacific if only for a few days. Consider Fiji your home away from home.
We are furthered honoured and grateful for the trust you have placed in Fiji to guide the discussions as Chair for our inaugural meeting.
This meeting is held in the lead up to the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022 (APMCDRR) and it is an opportunity to come together as a family of Pacific nations and peoples and as a means to strengthen our regional cooperation and our advocacy so that we can speak with a united voice as the Blue Pacific Continent bloc about our priorities and challenges.
The themes of this event, Disaster Preparedness and Response, Resilient Recovery and Risk Informed Development, are timely and relevant with our lived and daily experience and exposure to a range of natural hazards of hydro-meteorological origin including cyclones, droughts, landslides, floods and droughts. Many Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs), such as Vanuatu, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands are on major fault lines and experience earthquakes and tsunamis at a very high frequency.
As one of the most disaster-prone areas of the planet, climate change is further exacerbating the magnitude and impacts of climate variability and some natural hazards. So the outcomes of this meeting can also inform our region’s participation in the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, to be held from 6 to 18 November 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, now less than 100 days to the next.
Disaster response and humanitarian assistance arising from disasters remain to be one of the fundamental challenges for the region and it is fundamental for the Pacific to continue to enhance regional mechanisms for cooperation, coordination, technical assistance and resource mobilisation in all aspects of disaster management. With the recent experiences from COVID-19, we are seeing an increasing shift in focus on regional and national actors and this meeting is an opportunity to share and learn from our Pacific-to-Pacific exchanges in response to disasters and in DRR.
Our Leaders have set a strong foundation by which as a region we can act as a collectively for a resilient Pacific. The recently endorsed 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent provides a blue-print for our long-term resilient development with the thematic areas on Peace and Security and Climate Change and Disaster relevant to the work we all do at the national and regional level. The Boe Declaration for Regional Security (2018, Nauru) and Boe Declaration Action Plan (2019, Tuvalu) have specifically mandated the development of a regional coordination mechanism for disaster preparedness, response, and humanitarian assistance as a means to mitigate such challenges as we currently lack such a formalized mechanism.
The Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific (FRDP), our regional Pacific approach addressing climate change and disaster risk management, stresses multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approaches. The successful implementation of the FRDP is dependent on the ownership and combined efforts of related Governments and all other stakeholders, working in partnership, accounting for capabilities and strengths of various stakeholder groups. We have the means and the platforms, but we need to put them into actionable mechanisms that reap tangible benefits at the national level.
Risk Informed Development
When unpacking the themes of this event and speaking from my experience, in just a span of 10 months from the end of 2020 to 2021, Fiji was hit by three major cyclones - category 4 TC Harold, category 4 TC Yasa and category 2 TC Ana and TC Bina. Our Pacific Island neighbor, Tonga felt the full brunt of a volcanic eruption accompanied by a tsunami in early 2022 and really brought to the fore the critical need for a collective regional mechanism that can respond to such events in a timely and effective manner.
As we plan for a world in which climate change and disaster risks increase in their intensity, and with the new element of biological hazard such as COVID-19, it is critical that our development pathways take these risks into account. Risk informing development and strengthening the operations of our National Disaster Management Offices are critical to our ability to continue to strengthen the resilience of all communities.
But despite the challenges my country faces, I am also happy to share that Fiji has achieved Target E of the Sendai Framework through our rapidly strengthening disaster readiness. Not only that, but we continue to explore development pathways that ensure our country is well placed, financially, economically and socially to address, mitigate and adapt to the changing landscape of risks that we will continue to face. This has been possible through the collaboration with our partners.
Disaster Preparedness and Response
As I mentioned earlier, Fiji has experienced the brunt of over 14 tropical cyclones with cascading hazards amounting to more than $3 billion in damage and 67 fatalities. Our ability to overcome these disasters has been possible through our partnerships with the broader stakeholders particularly with Civil Society and I take this opportunity to acknowledge our civil society substantial positive contribution towards the successful implementation of humanitarian and DRR actions in Fiji.
The effective management of disaster risks, including disaster preparedness and response, through a coordinated approach is a priority, given our inherent vulnerabilities to climate induced natural disasters. Our better coordination at the regional and particularly national level, can result in more targeted and coherent external support that should enhance and complement the efforts of government to ensure that the needs of the affected population are addressed effectively.
But also in saying this, financial resources become quite critical. This also needs to be disbursed in a way that supports our preparedness efforts as a means to ensure that the aftermath of any climate change and/or natural hazards are minimized as much as possible and ensure that as individual nations we are not perpetually in recovery mode.
Honorable Ministers, I think you can all agree with me that resilient recovery from disasters should ideally be part of the planning process well before disasters strike. This includes addressing the root causes of vulnerabilities to disaster risks. These include the ever-present challenges of poverty, inequalities and inequities which will be further exacerbated by hazards and contribute to the medium and long-term impacts of disasters.
We must ensure therefore that development initiatives and systems and processes we develop during peace times must withstand the pressures of a crisis and be flexible and scalable enough to deliver short-term relief and mid to long term assistance to affected communities.
In Fiji’s case, during the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston and the proceeding disasters thereafter including COVID-19, the Social Welfare Programmes has been a vital instrument in ensuring that the most vulnerable are assisted and cushioned the impacts of destroyed livelihoods for the poor and near-poor. The Fiji National Provident Fund platform was also a social safety net for workers and enabled the reconstruction of damaged and destroyed homes.
It is therefore critical that planning for holistic disaster recovery be an integral part of preparedness and disaster risk reduction strategies and we must ensure that we plan for the increased demands on our logistical, human, and material resources when we build back better or build forward better as we recover from disasters.
However, governments cannot work alone in the cycle of disaster management, humanitarian assistance, and DRR, whether it is in the stage of early warning, preparation, response or recovery. In my view, we need to further advance the effort towards a strong regional coordination mechanism involving key stakeholders, such as policy makers, industry players, academics, and civil society.
Honorable Ministers, disasters whilst unfortunate, offer us a unique opportunity to remedy the shortcomings of the past and institute fundamental changes that will shift the trajectory of development into a more sustainable and resilient pathway.
In that regard, it is essential that we take a human rights-based approach to disaster recovery. The participation and voices of the most vulnerable, including women, children and minority groups are essential in disaster recovery planning and will give us an opportunity to
In doing so, we must ensure that we reflect the voices and needs of the most vulnerable in our disaster recovery process. Women, children, minorities and other vulnerable groups have specific needs that need to be acknowledged and factored in recovery planning and implementation.
In closing I would like to encourage us all to optimize the use of this opportunity. This is not just an inaugural meeting. It is an occasion that we can use as colleagues and friends to identify ways that our respective countries and this Blue Pacific region can strengthen our resilience to the various hazards and associated risks that we face. I want to encourage all of us to capitalize, for example, on the interaction that we will have later this morning with our partners. We are grateful for their presence and commitment to support our efforts. I am looking forward to the interaction and sharing with them.
When all is said and done, I feel confident that we will be able to make some significant commitments to action to help ensure the safety, security and resilience of our Blue Pacific.
I thank you.